WORKS: La dame blanche
PERFORMER: Rockwell Blake, Annick Massis, Mireille Delunsch, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Laurent Naouri, Bernard Deletré, Sylvie Brunet, Bernard Dehont, Gilles Vajou, Jacques VerzierRadio France Chorus, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 56355 2
Of the forty-odd operas François Adrien Boieldieu composed, La dame blanche (1825) is the acknowledged masterpiece, revered by Weber and Wagner. It was also prodigiously popular, receiving 1,500 performances in Paris during the first fifty years of its existence, thereafter more or less disappearing from the repertoire until exhumed last year by the renowned period-instrument exponent Marc Minkowski.
It’s intriguing, if flawed, and a fine example of early French Romantic opera, a glorious Gothic confection inspired by Walter Scott, with a highly chromatic score rich in atmosphere, veering from faux rustic écossaiserie to portentous mystery. Dramatically it’s implausible: the tale of a villainous steward, his compromised ward – who, preposterously, impersonates the ghost of the title – and a soldier returned from the war, Georges Brown.
Minkowski has assembled a fine cast who cope heroically with the virtuoso vocal parts and the extensive spoken dialogue but never seem really to inhabit their roles, and he inspires polished and incisive playing from the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. This isn’t the recording to put the opera back in the spotlight, but it’s an accomplished account of a fascinating rarity. Claire Wrathall